Three Cruises, All in the Grenadines
by Don Street
Ready for a cruise with no hairy channel crossings or time spent clearing Customs? You can easily cruise for a week or two entirely in the waters of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and even enjoy some uncrowded anchorages to boot.
To enjoy the Grenadines have on board Imray Iolaire charts A30 and A31 and the detailed chart of the middle Grenadines, B311. Do not rely on electronic navigation and chart plotters, use charts and eyeball navigation in good light. Also have a copy of Chris Doyle's Sailors Guide to the Windward Islands as well as my Martinique to Trinidad guide - they are quite different but complementary. Where Doyle and I do not agree, investigate and proceed with caution. Doyle does not describe several anchorages mentioned below that I feel should be visited.
If starting and ending a one-week cruise at St. Vincent, one barely scratches the surface as a full day is needed to reach the southern Grenadines, and a day and a half to return. This leaves only three and a half days in the Grenadines. A ten-day cruise gives almost a week to explore the Grenadines, while a two-week cruise gives plenty of time to stop at Baliceaux, Mustique and Isle de Quatre in the northern Grenadines and still gives a week in the southern Grenadines.
If you only have seven days and do not want to spend a day getting to the southern Grenadines and another day getting back, given settled weather and no northerly swell you can happily spend the time in and around Bequia. From St. Vincent sail to Anse Chemin on Bequia, and then on to Baliceaux, Mustique, Isle de Quatre, Friendship Bay, and then Admiralty Bay. On the final day, sail back to St. Vincent. All these anchorages are described below. With the exception of the last day's sail, all of the inter-island runs will be two hours or less.
On any cruise to the southern Grenadines, you probably will not be ready to leave St. Vincent until early or mid-afternoon so do a quick short run to Admiralty Bay, Bequia, course 22° magnetic, just over eight miles. The wind should be aft of abeam so it should be a fast beam or broad reach. Once in Admiralty Bay, work your way east and anchor on the north side of the harbour as far east as conditions permit.
On Day Two, depart early. (You can explore Bequia ashore on your way back to St. Vincent.) Head for Glossy Hill on Canouan, course about 205° magnetic, just over 17 miles. Round Glossy Hill and work your way eastwards, eyeball navigating to avoid the rocks and shoals until you reach Friendship Point, then turn north and work your way up behind the reef as your draft permits. Moor bow-and-stern facing east, as the sea coming in over the reef and exiting the south end of Windward Bay creates a fairly strong south-flowing current that will swing you beam to the sea inducing a roll.
If the windward side of Canouan doesn't suit you, carry on to the Tobago Cays Marine Park (entry fee EC$10 per person per day) and drop the hook in the seldom-used anchorage between Petit Rameau and Horseshoe Reef. You can easily spend Day Three here.
On Day Four, head to Union Island to visit one of its four anchorages.
In Clifton Harbour, sail in, round up and ease on forward until you feel the keel gently touch, drop the anchor, allow the boat to drift back, give it plenty of scope and set it.
Or head for the lee of uninhabited Frigate Island, and watch the Magnificent Frigatebirds drift lazily along until they spot a bird with a fish. Then the Frigatebird dives on the other bird, which drops the fish that the Frigatebird catches before it hits the water! [Note: Although it is unlikely to happen again, on October 3rd, 2013, the crew of the yacht Rainbow were assaulted while at anchor at Frigate Island. You might not want to be the only yacht at anchor here.]
Or you can continue on to Chatham Bay, where the beach is lined with restaurants. When entering, avoid Winter Rock, which has nabbed more than a few boats.
Only if the wind is south of east, and there is no sign of a northwest ground swell, go to Bloody Bay and anchor in the northeast corner. Here you will find a deserted, fantastically beautiful beach with soft sand and an unoccupied house - built without permission and the government has never allowed the builder to live in it. Anchor bow and stern in case a ground swell comes in.
Allow a full day and a half to get back to St. Vincent when leaving from Union Island or Mayreau. Once across North Mayreau Channel immediately tack to the east so that when you depart from the northwest corner of Canouan you are close to the point. The course to West Cay, Bequia is 025° magnetic, 16 miles. If the current is running to the west, given leeway you will have to steer about 040° magnetic to lay the course. Check the tidal information on the back of all the Imray Iolaire charts. If you can time your departure from the northwest corner of Canouan to pick up the first of the east-going tide, this run will be an easy close reach rather than hard on it.
If you are not laying West Cay, tack to the east as soon as you are far enough north to lay Isle de Quatre on port tack. There will be smoother water and less current in this area than north of West Cay. Once you feel you can lay West Cay, tack to the north. Round West Cay close aboard then work your way eastwards into Admiralty Bay and anchor in the north side of the bay.
Relax and explore ashore but be ready to head back to St. Vincent in the morning before the wind really begins to blow. Again check the tide. If possible leave on a weather-going tide. The course from Admiralty Bay to Blue Lagoon is 045° magnetic, a course that you cannot possibly lay unless the wind is south of east and you have a weather-going, lifting tide. If all this falls in place you can make it to Blue Lagoon or Young Island in one shot - but during the first three miles (until you get off the shelf), with the wind against the tide the waves will be short and steep, almost square. Once off the shelf the seas will lengthen out.
If the tide is running west, the fastest and least painful way to reach Blue Lagoon is to short tack up the coast of Bequia all the way to Anse Chemin or until you can easily lay Blue Lagoon. If you do not lay Blue Lagoon and the tide is running to the west, off the south coast of St. Vincent it will be running two or possibly three knots. On starboard tack the foul tide will be sucking you off to leeward like a giant vacuum cleaner; on port tack it will be stopping you dead.
A Ten-Day Cruise
On a ten-day cruise, head south as above described, but include a stop at Petit Tabac, southeast of the Tobago Cays and within the Marine Park. Horseshoe Reef will be easily visible but the reef just to windward of the dinghy pass (look at chart B311 carefully) will be hard to spot as it will only break in heavy weather, but the shoal water will be easy to spot. Head for World's End Reef. As it is approached, bear off, pass to leeward of Egg Reef, and head for the west end of the reef of Petit Tabac. Pass to leeward of the reef, then round up and work your way east as far as your draft will permit into sheltered waters. This is an ideal anchorage for shoal-draft monohulls and catamarans. If you have a good dinghy or RIB you are within easy dinghy distance of World's End Reef. If your crew is really interested in snorkeling or diving, World's End Reef will keep them occupied for days.
If your boat is too deep for Petit Tabac, follow directions as above but sail past Petit Tabac and on a course of about 225° magnetic toward Pinese, near Petit St. Vincent (PSV). As you approach Pinese, pick up the range on chart B311 and my guide (page 125). Run on in on this range on a course of 163° magnetic, passing between Pinese and Mopion using eyeball navigating - no chart plotter! Once through this passage, work your way eastward inside the reef to the north of PSV and anchor. From this anchorage you have superb snorkeling and diving.
After a day or so in this idyllic anchorage (conditions permitting), head west to Pinese and Mopion, pick up range 13 and head for Union Island, avoiding Gran De Coi shoal. Note the ranges/transit on B311 to avoid this danger.
Visit the anchorages on Union previously described, or visit Mayreau. Saltwhistle Bay is often crowded; Saline Bay less so unless a cruise ship is in. If you want to be alone, carefully enter Windward Bay using range 19 on chart B311; see my guide page 116. Take a dinghy ride ashore, a short walk across the low land to the Saline Bay beach, and follow the road up the hill to the church and you have a fantastic view of all the Grenadines. Walking up and down the hill will make you thirsty and hungry. There are numerous small bars and restaurants along the way that will happily sell you refreshments.
Head on back to St. Vincent, allowing a day and a half for the trip. Or allow two and a half days for the trip back and stop at one of the two anchorages in Isle de Quatre. The southern anchorage is only to be used by good eyeball navigators sailing boats drawing six feet or less, and only in ideal light. Be prepared to leave if the wind goes into the south.
Alternatively, anchor on the north side of the island on the narrow shelf, making sure the anchor is well set if the crew goes ashore to explore. It is best to leave one person on board. Those that feel like mountain goats can climb 300 feet to inspect the ruins of a stone-walled 18th century house on the ridge. It is rather amazing as it has been unoccupied for more than half a century but has weathered half a dozen hurricanes and the ravages of the termites, yet is still standing. It's a lot easier to get to the house from the lagoon on the south side; there is a path from the beach and it's not so steep.
If neither anchorage at Isle de Quatre suits you, try Petit Nevis or Friendship Bay.
A Two-Week Cruise
If you have a full two weeks, if conditions permit on the first day head to Anse Chemin, five miles from Blue Lagoon on a course of approximately 200° magnetic. If there are fishermen there, please stay out of their way. On the second day (or on Day One if a surge or north wind makes Anse Chemin untenable), head off to Baliceaux. The land is privately owned, but of course you can walk along the shore on the "Queen's chain" (a chain is a standard measurement that has been used in England and the colonies since shortly after William the Conqueror arrived).
The next day sail to Mustique, where the ultra rich have changed a rough West Indian island where a few farmers grew cotton into an island that looks like a well-tended garden.
Then enjoy the rest of the Grenadines as described above.
Since you have 14 days at your disposal, when heading back to St. Vincent allow a full day or two days in Admiralty Bay to explore Bequia. Whenever I arrived in Bequia with either Iolaire or Li'l Iolaire and was planning to stay a few days, our solution to the crowded anchorage problem was to sail right up to the head of the harbour, douse sail, and ease on in until we ran aground. We would then drop the anchor. If the boat drifted back, we eased out the anchor line and set the anchor. If she stuck, a crewmember would jump into the shoal water, run a line ashore and tie it to a palm tree. Then a stern anchor was set. We were close to shore, with no problems with boats swinging into us or dragging down on us.
As you can see from this article, there is plenty to keep a sailor occupied, on the move and off the beaten track in the Grenadines!
Don Street is the author of Street's Cruising Guide to the Eastern Caribbean, Seawise, the Transatlantic Crossing Guide, and the Ocean Sailing Yacht. Visit his website at www.street-iolaire.com.
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